People of color have not fared well in the U.S. in terms of owning/controlling programming content. Channels serving â€œminorityâ€ audiences have often been created to serve the political purposes of the media lobby. BET was financially backed to help the cable industry secure lucrative franchises from big cities. More recently, Comcast supported the new TV One cable channel to give it greater leverage with officials from the African American community. As we have pointed out previously, the TV industry views the African American and Hispanic â€œmarketâ€ as great places to sell soap and other productsâ€”not as communities deserving a meaningful range of serious and independent content services. In the emerging interactive broadband era, the stakes are especially high, in our opinion, to ensure that there are well-supported local and national services serving a variety of needsâ€”including news, public affairs, and culture.
Last Monday, executives from both Verizon and Disney claimed that their corporate policies opposing an open Internet and ending community oversight of cable TV would â€œhelp improve black and Hispanic presence in the industryâ€ (according to the off-line trade journal Communications Daily, 7/11/06: â€œVerizon, Disney Executives Say Their Policy Positions Good for Minority Communicationsâ€). The executives spoke at a conference held by the Minority Media & Telecom Council.
Verizonâ€™s EVP/Super-Lobbyist (and former Congressperson) Tom Tauke, in discussing why his company opposes network neutrality, said that such a safeguard wasnâ€™t needed because â€œall players can reach their audiences over broadband.â€ Disneyâ€™s Preston Padden [once the media industry leader fighting for network neutrality] echoed Taukeâ€™s perspectives that people of color have nothing to worry about. He said, noted the trade report, that â€œnear as I can tell, the Internet is completely color-blind.â€
But both Verizon and Disney arenâ€™t being honest. They know well that absent network neutrality, a private system for broadband distribution is evolving in the U.S. Powerful gatekeepers are emerging for broadbandâ€”just as weâ€™ve had with broadcast and cable TV. Deals are being struck which give a privileged fewâ€”such as what was done between Verizon and Disney last yearâ€”real access to audiences. Everyone else will be a second-class digital citizen, at best.
I fear that absent action, both in the political front and in the marketplace, the kind of rich digital environment that would meet the full needs of communities now marginalized in our media system will not readily emerge. Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s time for a serious response to the lies coming from Disney, Verizon and others. We are at a critical crossroadsâ€”a turning pointâ€”with digital communications. Now is the time to stake a claim for broadband to the PC, TV, and mobile networks. Otherwise, people from Americaâ€™s diverse communities could end up responding to images and content controlled by othersâ€”folks principally interested in selling and making steady bucks.